Funeral Etiquette II

Purpose of the Funeral Service
While some focus on the person’s contribution is to be included in the service, there ought to be greater attention paid to God, the Creator of life. The sermon is not to speak to the dead but to the living. One’s destiny is sealed at the point of death, and thus nothing the preacher or anyone says or does can change that. Therefore, the living must be preached to; but when the time is taken up with extended preliminaries, it is possible that God is shortchanged.
Home Going
For some Seventh-day Adventists locally, the term “Home Going” is most repulsive and unacceptable, when speaking about what happens to an individual following death. There is no such thing as a “Home Going” they contend. As for going anywhere following death, one goes to the grave and awaits his reward, hopefully at the first resurrection, for on the second there is no living forever as noted in Revelation 20. The Bible speaks about going to the grave at death and not to heaven or hell as we commonly hear loosely at many non-Adventist funerals. Says Jesus, in John’s Gospel 5:28, “All that are in the grave shall hear His voice.”

Respect for the Office of Pastor
Respect for the office of the pastor is crucial. While it is possible and not unusual for family of the deceased to choose a pastor other than the host pastor, it is necessary and respectful to contact the church/host pastor initially. He is to be engaged in the planning of the service and should be allowed to speak with his/her colleague. That is not to say that family cannot talk directly with the pastor of their choice for the homily. However, to bypass the host pastor is not the right way to go about matters. The role of the pastor is essential, as there is the need to inform different departments of the church so as to provide music, musician and serving ushers, etc. The pastor will also seek to guide and work with the family in preparing the order of service. In fact, with his experience it makes the work of the family so much easier. Additionally, he is able to facilitate a smoother moderating of the service thus allowing the service to move along, so as to avoid a sense of disorder and unnecessary delay, or extension in the service time.

Respect for the Requests of the Family
It is also important that pastors work with the family regarding their requests, once they fall within the practice and policies of the church. Non-Seventh-day Adventist family and friends may participate in the service, but they must not give the sermonette. As for reading a scripture or providing music, it is ok, but it is necessary that the pastor know what is to be sung so as to avoid embarrassment at the service. Some songs, though popular around town, may not reflect Adventists’ understanding of the state of the dead. Nevertheless, the point that I make about the requests of family members, depending on the nature of a relative’s death, may require much care and understanding. A pastor, mindful of this and demonstrating patience and tact, can do a lot to help and guide the family in their planning.

Following the Funeral Service
Post funeral service care is absolutely necessary and critical, as grief affects and lingers with some persons more than with others. Pastors and elders should encourage members of a grief committee or ministry to keep in touch. Food preparation and assisting with house cleaning might be necessary. Therefore, my observation last week about so many persons wanting to “have a say” publicly in a service should not be ignored. Some of the time used by those persons making unnecessary speeches at the service could be employed in ministering to the family when it is most needed; and that is usually following the service.

I believe that if everyone take my observations and suggestions seriously, the funeral service would be a more meaningful experience and less stressful for all involved.